Agatha Webb, by Anna Katharine Green

xxix

Home Again

On his way to the depot, Sweetwater went into the Herald office and bought a morning paper. At the station he opened it. There was one column devoted to the wreck of the Hesper, and a whole half-page to the proceedings of the third day’s inquiry into the cause and manner of Agatha Webb’s death. Merely noting that his name was mentioned among the lost, in the first article, he began to read the latter with justifiable eagerness. The assurance given in Captain Wattles’s letter was true. No direct suspicion had as yet fallen on Frederick. As the lover of Amabel Page, his name was necessarily mentioned, but neither in the account of the inquest nor in the editorials on the subject could he find any proof that either the public or police had got hold of the great idea that he was the man who had preceded Amabel to Agatha’s cottage. Relieved on this score, Sweetwater entered more fully into the particulars, and found that though the jury had sat three days, very little more had come to light than was known on the morning he made that bold dash into the Hesper. Most of the witnesses had given in their testimony, Amabel’s being the chief, and though no open accusation had been made, it was evident from the trend of the questions put to the latter that Amabel’s connection with the affair was looked upon as criminal and as placing her in a very suspicious light. Her replies, however, as once before, under a similar but less formal examination, failed to convey any recognition on her part either of this suspicion or of her own position; yet they were not exactly frank, and Sweetwater saw, or thought he saw (naturally failing to have a key to the situation), that she was still working upon her old plan of saving both herself and Frederick, by throwing whatever suspicion her words might raise upon the deceased Zabel. He did not know, and perhaps it was just as well that he did not at this especial juncture, that she was only biding her time — now very nearly at hand — and that instead of loving Frederick, she hated him, and was determined upon his destruction. Reading, as a final clause, that Mr. Sutherland was expected to testify soon in explanation of his position as executor of Mrs. Webb’s will, Sweetwater grew very serious, and, while no change took place in his mind as to his present duty, he decided that his return must be as unobtrusive as possible, and his only too timely reappearance on the scene of the inquiry kept secret till Mr. Sutherland had given his evidence and retired from under the eyes of his excited fellow-citizens.

“The sight of me might unnerve him,” was Sweetwater’s thought, “precipitating the very catastrophe we dread. One look, one word on his part indicative of his inner apprehensions that his son had a hand in the crime which has so benefited him, and nothing can save Frederick from the charge of murder. Not Knapp’s skill, my silence, or Amabel’s finesse. The young man will be lost.”

He did not know, as we do, that Amabel’s finesse was devoted to winning a husband for herself, and that, in the event of failure, the action she threatened against her quondam lover would be precipitated that very day at the moment when the clock struck twelve.

Sweetwater arrived home by the way of Portchester. He had seen one or two persons he knew, but, so far, had himself escaped recognition. The morning light was dimly breaking when he strode into the outskirts of Sutherlandtown and began to descend the hill. As he passed Mr. Halliday’s house he looked up, and was astonished to see a light burning in one deeply embowered window. Alas! he did not know how early one anxious heart woke during those troublous days. The Sutherland house was dark, but as he crept very close under its overhanging eaves he heard a deep sigh uttered over his head, and knew that someone was up here also in anxious expectation of a day that was destined to hold more than even he anticipated.

Meanwhile, the sea grew rosy, and the mother’s cottage was as yet far off. Hurrying on, he came at last under the eye of more than one of the early risers of Sutherlandtown.

“What, Sweetwater! Alive and well!”

“Hey, Sweetwater, we thought you were lost on the Hesper!”

“Halloo! Home in time to see the pretty Amabel arrested?” Phrases like these met him at more than one corner; but he eluded them all, stopping only to put one hesitating question. Was his mother well?

Home fears had made themselves felt with his near approach to that humble cottage door.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37